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Decision-making and Problem-solving

Appreciate the complexities involved in decision-making & problem solving.

Develop evidence to support views

Analyze situations carefully

Discuss subjects in an organized way

Predict the consequences of actions

Weigh alternatives

Generate and organize ideas

Form and apply concepts

Design systematic plans of action

A 5-Step Problem-Solving Strategy

Specify the problem – a first step to solving a problem is to identify it as specifically as possible.  It involves evaluating the present state and determining how it differs from the goal state.

Analyze the problem – analyzing the problem involves learning as much as you can about it.  It may be necessary to look beyond the obvious, surface situation, to stretch your imagination and reach for more creative options.

seek other perspectives

be flexible in your analysis

consider various strands of impact

brainstorm about all possibilities and implications

research problems for which you lack complete information. Get help.

Formulate possible solutions – identify a wide range of possible solutions.

try to think of all possible solutions

be creative

consider similar problems and how you have solved them

Evaluate possible solutions – weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each solution.  Think through each solution and consider how, when, and where you could accomplish each.  Consider both immediate and long-term results.  Mapping your solutions can be helpful at this stage.

Choose a solution – consider 3 factors:

compatibility with your priorities

amount of risk


Keys to Problem Solving

Think aloud – problem solving is a cognitive, mental process.  Thinking aloud or talking yourself through the steps of problem solving is useful.  Hearing yourself think can facilitate the process.

Allow time for ideas to "gel" or consolidate.  If time permits, give yourself time for solutions to develop.  Distance from a problem can allow you to clear your mind and get a new perspective.

Talk about the problem – describing the problem to someone else and talking about it can often make a problem become more clear and defined so that a new solution will surface.

Decision Making Strategies

Decision making is a process of identifying and evaluating choices.  We make numerous decisions every day and our decisions may range from routine, every-day types of decisions to those decisions which will have far reaching impacts.  The types of decisions we make are routine, impulsive, and reasoned.  Deciding what to eat for breakfast is a routine decision; deciding to do or buy something at the last minute is considered an impulsive decision; and choosing your college major is, hopefully, a reasoned decision.  College coursework often requires you to make the latter, or reasoned decisions.

Decision making has much in common with problem solving.  In problem solving you identify and evaluate solution paths; in decision making you make a similar discovery and evaluation of alternatives.  The crux of decision making, then, is the careful identification and evaluation of alternatives.  As you weigh alternatives, use the following suggestions:

Consider the outcome each is likely to produce, in both the short term and the long term.

Compare alternatives based on how easily you can accomplish each.

Evaluate possible negative side effects each may produce.

Consider the risk involved in each.

Be creative, original; don't eliminate alternatives because you have not heard or used them before.

An important part of decision making is to predict both short-term and long-term outcomes for each alternative.  You may find that while an alternative seems most desirable at the present, it may pose problems or complications over a longer time period.

  • Uses of Critical Thinking
  • Critically Evaluating the Logic and Validity of Information
  • Recognizing Propaganda Techniques and Errors of Faulty Logic
  • Developing the Ability to Analyze Historical and Contemporary Information
  • Recognize and Value Various Viewpoints
  • Appreciating the Complexities Involved in Decision-Making and Problem-Solving
  • Being a Responsible Critical Thinker & Collaborating with Others
  • Suggestions
  • Read the Textbook
  • When to Take Notes
  • 10 Steps to Tests
  • Studying for Exams
  • Test-Taking Errors
  • Test Anxiety
  • Objective Tests
  • Essay Tests
  • The Reading Process
  • Levels of Comprehension
  • Strengthen Your Reading Comprehension
  • Reading Rate
  • How to Read a Textbook
  • Organizational Patterns of a Paragraph
  • Topics, Main Ideas, and Support
  • Inferences and Conclusions
  • Interpreting What You Read
  • Concentrating and Remembering
  • Converting Words into Pictures
  • Spelling and the Dictionary
  • Eight Essential Spelling Rules
  • Exceptions to the Rules
  • Motivation and Goal Setting
  • Effective Studying
  • Time Management
  • Listening and Note-Taking
  • Memory and Learning Styles
  • Textbook Reading Strategies
  • Memory Tips
  • Test-Taking Strategies
  • The First Step
  • Study System
  • Maximize Comprehension
  • Different Reading Modes
  • Paragraph Patterns
  • An Effective Strategy
  • Finding the Main Idea
  • Read a Medical Text
  • Read in the Sciences
  • Read University Level
  • Textbook Study Strategies
  • The Origin of Words
  • Using a Dictionary
  • Interpreting a Dictionary Entry
  • Structure Analysis
  • Common Roots
  • Word Relationships
  • Using Word Relationships
  • Context Clues
  • The Importance of Reading
  • Vocabulary Analogies
  • Guide to Talking with Instructors
  • Writing Help

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Organization and Self-Management

22 Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making

Types of decision makers.

Problem solving and decision making belong together. You cannot solve a problem without making a decision. There are two main types of decision makers. Some people use a systematic, rational approach. Others are more intuitive. They go with their emotions or a gut feeling about the right approach. They may have highly creative ways to address the problem, but cannot explain why they have chosen this approach.

Six Problem-Solving Steps

The most effective method uses both rational and intuitive or creative approaches. There are six steps in the process:

Identify the problem

Search for alternatives, weigh the alternatives, make a choice.

  • Implement the choice
  • Evaluate the results and, if necessary, start the process again

To solve a problem, you must first determine what the problem actually is. You may think you know, but you need to check it out. Sometimes, it is easy to focus on symptoms, not causes. You use a rational approach to determine what the problem is. The questions you might ask include:

  • What have I (or others) observed?
  • What was I (or others) doing at the time the problem occurred?
  • Is this a problem in itself or a symptom of a deeper, underlying problem?
  • What information do I need?
  • What have we already tried to address this problem?

For example, the apprentice you supervise comes to you saying that the electric warming oven is not working properly. Before you call a repair technician, you may want to ask a few questions. You may want to find out what the apprentice means by “not working properly.” Does he or she know how to operate the equipment? Did he or she check that the equipment was plugged in? Was the fuse or circuit breaker checked? When did it last work?

You may be able to avoid an expensive service call. At the very least, you will be able to provide valuable information to the repair technician that aids in the troubleshooting process.

Of course, many of the problems that you will face in the kitchen are much more complex than a malfunctioning oven. You may have to deal with problems such as:

  • Discrepancies between actual and expected food costs
  • Labour costs that have to be reduced
  • Lack of budget to complete needed renovations in the kitchen
  • Disputes between staff

However, the basic problem-solving process remains the same even if the problems identified differ. In fact, the more complex the problem is, the more important it is to be methodical in your problem-solving approach.

It may seem obvious what you have to do to address the problem. Occasionally, this is true, but most times, it is important to identify possible alternatives. This is where the creative side of problem solving really comes in.

Brainstorming with a group can be an excellent tool for identifying potential alternatives. Think of as many possibilities as possible. Write down these ideas, even if they seem somewhat zany or offbeat on first impression. Sometimes really silly ideas can contain the germ of a superb solution. Too often, people move too quickly into making a choice without really considering all of the options. Spending more time searching for alternatives and weighing their consequences can really pay off.

Once a number of ideas have been generated, you need to assess each of them to see how effective they might be in addressing the problem. Consider the following factors:

  • Impact on the organization
  • Effect on public relations
  • Impact on employees and organizational climate
  • Ethics of actions
  • Whether this course is permitted under collective agreements
  • Whether this idea can be used to build on another idea

Some individuals and groups avoid making decisions. Not making a decision is in itself a decision. By postponing a decision, you may eliminate a number of options and alternatives. You lose control over the situation. In some cases, a problem can escalate if it is not dealt with promptly. For example, if you do not handle customer complaints promptly, the customer is likely to become even more annoyed. You will have to work much harder to get a satisfactory solution.

Implement the decision

Once you have made a decision, it must be implemented. With major decisions, this may involve detailed planning to ensure that all parts of the operation are informed of their part in the change. The kitchen may need a redesign and new equipment. Employees may need additional training. You may have to plan for a short-term closure while the necessary changes are being made. You will have to inform your customers of the closure.

Evaluate the outcome

Whenever you have implemented a decision, you need to evaluate the results. The outcomes may give valuable advice about the decision-making process, the appropriateness of the choice, and the implementation process itself. This information will be useful in improving the company’s response the next time a similar decision has to be made.

Creative Thinking

Your creative side is most useful in identifying new or unusual alternatives. Too often, you can get stuck in a pattern of thinking that has been successful in the past. You think of ways that you have handled similar problems in the past. Sometimes this is successful, but when you are faced with a new problem or when your solutions have failed, you may find it difficult to generate new ideas.

If you have a problem that seems to have no solution, try these ideas to “unfreeze” your mind:

  • Relax before trying to identify alternatives.
  • Play “what if” games with the problem. For example, What if money was no object? What if we could organize a festival? What if we could change winter into summer?
  • Borrow ideas from other places and companies. Trade magazines might be useful in identifying approaches used by other companies.
  • Give yourself permission to think of ideas that seem foolish or that appear to break the rules. For example, new recipes may come about because someone thought of new ways to combine foods. Sometimes these new combinations appear to break rules about complementary tastes or break boundaries between cuisines from different parts of the world. The results of such thinking include the combined bar and laundromat and the coffee places with Internet access for customers.
  • Use random inputs to generate new ideas. For example, walk through the local shopping mall trying to find ways to apply everything you see to the problem.
  • Turn the problem upside down. Can the problem be seen as an opportunity? For example, the road outside your restaurant that is the only means of accessing your parking lot is being closed due to a bicycle race. Perhaps you could see the bicycle race as an opportunity for business rather than as a problem.

Working in the Food Service Industry by The BC Cook Articulation Committee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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problem solving and decision making for improvement

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10 Effective Techniques To Master Problem Solving And Decision Making Skills

Understanding problem solving & decision making, why are problem solving and decision making skills essential in the workplace, five techniques for effective problem solving, five techniques for effective decision making, frequently asked questions.

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Steps in problem solving and decision making

  • Improved efficiency and productivity: Employees with strong problem solving and decision making skills are better equipped to identify and solve issues that may arise in their work. This leads to improved efficiency and productivity as they can complete their work more timely and effectively.
  • Improved customer satisfaction: Problem solving and decision making skills also help employees address any concerns or issues customers may have. This leads to enhanced customer satisfaction as customers feel their needs are being addressed and their problems are resolved.
  • Effective teamwork: When working in teams, problem solving and decision making skills are essential for effective collaboration . Groups that can effectively identify and solve problems together are more likely to successfully achieve their goals.
  • Innovation: Effective problem-solving and decision-making skills are also crucial for driving innovation in the workplace. Employees who think creatively and develop new solutions to problems are more likely to develop innovative ideas to move the business forward.
  • Risk management: Problem solving and decision making skills are also crucial for managing risk in the workplace. By identifying potential risks and developing strategies to mitigate them, employees can help minimize the negative impact of risks on the business.

Problem solving techniques

  • Brainstorming: Brainstorming is a technique for generating creative ideas and solutions to problems. In a brainstorming session, a group of people share their thoughts and build on each other’s suggestions. The goal is to generate a large number of ideas in a short amount of time. For example, a team of engineers could use brainstorming to develop new ideas for improving the efficiency of a manufacturing process.
  • Root Cause Analysis: Root cause analysis is a technique for identifying the underlying cause of a problem. It involves asking “why” questions to uncover the root cause of the problem. Once the root cause is identified, steps can be taken to address it. For example, a hospital could use root cause analysis to investigate why patient falls occur and identify the root cause, such as inadequate staffing or poor lighting.
  • SWOT Analysis: SWOT analysis is a technique for evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to a problem or situation. It involves assessing internal and external factors that could impact the problem and identifying ways to leverage strengths and opportunities while minimizing weaknesses and threats. For example, a small business could use SWOT analysis to evaluate its market position and identify opportunities to expand its product line or improve its marketing.
  • Pareto Analysis: Pareto analysis is a technique for identifying the most critical problems to address. It involves ranking problems by impact and frequency and first focusing on the most significant issues. For example, a software development team could use Pareto analysis to prioritize bugs and issues to fix based on their impact on the user experience.
  • Decision Matrix Analysis: Decision matrix analysis evaluates alternatives and selects the best course of action. It involves creating a matrix to compare options based on criteria and weighting factors and selecting the option with the highest score. For example, a manager could use decision matrix analysis to evaluate different software vendors based on criteria such as price, features, and support and select the vendor with the best overall score.

Decision making techniques

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis: Cost-benefit analysis is a technique for evaluating the costs and benefits of different options. It involves comparing each option’s expected costs and benefits and selecting the one with the highest net benefit. For example, a company could use cost-benefit analysis to evaluate a new product line’s potential return on investment.
  • Decision Trees: Decision trees are a visual representation of the decision-making process . They involve mapping out different options and their potential outcomes and probabilities. This helps to identify the best course of action based on the likelihood of different outcomes. For example, a farmer could use a decision tree to choose crops to plant based on the expected weather patterns.
  • SWOT Analysis: SWOT analysis can also be used for decision making. By identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of different options, a decision maker can evaluate each option’s potential risks and benefits. For example, a business owner could use SWOT analysis to assess the potential risks and benefits of expanding into a new market.
  • Pros and Cons Analysis: Pros and cons analysis lists the advantages and disadvantages of different options. It involves weighing the pros and cons of each option to determine the best course of action. For example, an individual could use a pros and cons analysis to decide whether to take a job offer.
  • Six Thinking Hats: The six thinking hats technique is a way to think about a problem from different perspectives. It involves using six different “hats” to consider various aspects of the decision. The hats include white (facts and figures), red (emotions and feelings), black (risks and drawbacks), yellow (benefits and opportunities), green (creativity and new ideas), and blue (overview and control). For example, a team could use the six thinking hats technique to evaluate different options for a marketing campaign.

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Problem Solving And Decision Making Process - Benefits, Steps, & Skills

Problem Solving And Decision Making Process - Benefits, Steps, & Skills

Written By : Bakkah

30 Apr 2023

Table of Content

What is the decision-making process? 

What is the Problem-Solving process? 

Benefits of Decision making & Problem-solving 

What are Decision-making skills? 

What are problem-solving skills? 

Decision-making Process: 

Problem-Solving Step in the Process:

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An international crisis, global pandemic or even adopting new technology all these occurrences may wreck the organizational structure a bit. That’s why it is important to improve decision-making and problem-solving skills in case we found ourselves before such challenging matters.  

Every member of the company, at some point, is asked to decide on something or maybe solve a problem. However, higher authority has a hard time trying to sort out humongous matters incorporation with HR management to make sure that the decisions are all aligned. 

Let us introduce you to some skills, steps, and the benefits of developing your decision-making and problem-solving strategy. 

What is the decision-making process?  

A decision-making process is a set of processes done by a person to choose the best alternative or course of decision-making activities for them.

It is a collection of measures conducted by managers in a firm to define the planned course for business initiatives and to put actions in motion.

What is the Problem-Solving process?  

The problem-solving process is the process of observing the organization’s atmosphere as a whole to spot any irritating matters and to figure out why such problems occurred in the first place, to examine the possibility of improvement or change, in order to develop alternatives of problem-solving activities which can help with the decision-making process. 

Benefits of Decision making & Problem-solving  

Problem-solving & decision-making are essential talents. They can assist you with several circumstances that may arise at work.

The talents may be used in conjunction with one another to tackle many of the same problems. Here are some benefits of using decision making and problem-solving skills in your organization: 

Saving time and making better use of resources:  

Planning things ahead spare you so much trouble and make it easy for you to go back and spot the error and handle it. 

It is the same with the two skills in hand, they both require thorough planning to make sure time is used efficiently and resources are exploited perfectly. 

Easy Delegation Process: 

If you approach decisions as a single jumbled step, your only options are to accomplish everything yourself or to chuck the assignment over the wall and pray for the best.

It is much easier to assign work and schedule check-ins at suitable stages if all stakeholders have shared process clarity on the phases of making choices. 

People will accomplish things faster: 

it is easier to set clear goals, have flexible timelines, and prepare the resources needed. This way your people will only occupy themselves with work and try to finish things as well as possible. 

Prevention of quarrels:  

When a manager is insufficiently forceful and leaves too many decisions to the workers, it can lead to workplace conflict.

A situation in which employees are unsure of the way they are being led might result in an overabundance of players attempting to take command.

Improve your decision-making abilities and show them the way to avoid your colleagues arguing over how to complete a project or which proposal is superior for your team!   

Sometimes you don’t even sense that your organization has experienced a downfall, and this is thanks to a clever implementation of detailed problem-solving followed by a decision-making process.

Decision-making Process:  

Identify the problem: .

Whether you're tackling a complex problem or a relatively simple one, it's vital that you have a clear understanding of what it is that you're hoping to solve. 

If you're trying to tackle several problems (even if they're relatively simple) the task becomes much harder. 

Do your research: 

You'll want to undertake some fact-finding and investigation once you've defined the problem you're trying to solve.

This might entail investigating the causes of previous problems that were successfully remedied. It may be necessary to create interview questions to ask persons engaged in the situation. 

Look for possible solutions: 

It's time to start thinking about possible remedies after you've done your study on the issue. This step necessitates creativity and brainstorming as you come up with a few excellent ideas. 

As well as some backup plans in case the initial set fails. Creating contingency plans to prevent more difficulties is a common part of problem solving. 

Make a decision: 

Once you've compiled a list of potential solutions, work your way down the list to the best option. If you're working in a group, attempt to make decisions collectively and come up with a solution that everyone agrees on. 

Put that decision into action: 

Implement your selected solution in a methodical manner. Avoid acting too quickly, since this will almost always result in a shoddy solution that fails to accomplish the desired outcome. 

Await results: 

Examine how well your solution is functioning and decide whether you need to take any more steps. Before you follow up and decide whether to adjust your strategy, it's ideal to set a time for observation. 

Even though Decision making and Problem-solving processes might be similar in some steps, it is important to know the steps of Problem solving process as well. 

Define the problem : 

you’ll have to identify the issue, understand how it came to existence, and see if there’s enough data to start working with. 

Clarify the problem

Clarify the problem are you aware of everything related to it? Or do you need more information? You need to know if this was a priority to fix now, or it can simply wait while handling other more important issues. 

Define the goals :

in this step, you’ll have a fixed goal that you aim to achieve after solving this problem. Fixing a clear timeline would encourage working faster and harder to solve the problem. 

Identify the roots & the major causes of the inconvenience :

A problem doesn’t occur out of thin air, there must be a reason, and for you to get rid of this problem once and for all, you need to extract the reason. 

  • Develop an action plan:

Make a list of the steps that must be taken to treat the core cause & prevent the problem from spreading to others. 

Each activity should have an owner and a deadline. Finally, actions should be tracked to verify that they are completed. 

Execute action plan :

now that you’ve had your list of steps, put it into motion! Just make sure everything is crossed out of your action plan. 

Evaluate the results :

Match the results you got with the goals you set in earlier steps. Check if there were any unpredictable consequences. If your goals weren’t achieved, then the problem isn’t solved yet, meaning you must start all over again. 

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Decision Making and Problem Solving

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Problem Solving and Decision Making

Problem-solving and decision-making are important skills for business and life. 

Problem-solving often involves decision-making, and decision making is especially important for management and leadership. 

There are processes and techniques to improve decision making and the quality of decisions. 

Decision making is more natural to certain personalities, so these people should focus more on improving the quality of their decisions. 

People that are less natural decision-makers are often able to make quality assessments, but then need to be more decisive in acting upon the assessments made. 

Problem-solving and decision making are closely linked, and each requires creativity in identifying and developing options, for which the  brainstorming  technique is particularly useful. 

See also the  free SWOT analysis template and examples , and  PEST analysis template , which help decision-making and problem-solving. 

SWOT analysis helps assess the strength of a company, a business proposition or idea; PEST analysis helps to assess the potential and suitability of a market. 

Good decision making requires a mixture of skills: creative development and identification of options, clarity of judgement, firmness of decision, and effective implementation. 

For group problem-solving and decision making, or when a consensus is required,  workshops  help, within which you can incorporate these tools and processes as appropriate. 

Here are some useful methods for effective decision making and problem-solving: First a simple step-by-step process for effective decision making and problem-solving.

And definitely see the  ethical decision-making  quick guide.

Decision-Making process

  • Define and clarify the issue - does it warrant action? If so, now? Is the matter urgent, important or both? See the  Pareto Principle.
  • Gather all the facts and understand their causes.
  • Think about or brainstorm possible options and solutions (See  brainstorming  process).
  • Consider and compare the 'pros and cons' of each option - consult others if necessary or useful - and for bigger complex decisions where there are several options, create a template that enables measurements according to different strategic factors (see  SWOT ,  PEST ,  Porter ).
  • Select the best option - avoid vagueness and weak compromises in trying to please everyone.
  • Explain your decision to those involved and affected, and follow up to ensure proper and effective implementation.

Decision-making maxims will help to reinforce the above decision-making process whether related to problem-solving or not, for example:

"We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down." - Aneurin Bevan

"In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."  - attributed to Theodore Roosevelt - more maxims on the  quotes page.

There is often more than one good answer when you are faced with a complex decision. When you've found the best solution you can find, involve others in making it work, and it probably will.

More useful rules, acronyms and training ideas on the  acronyms page .

'Pros and Cons' and 'Weighted' Decision-Making Methods

A simple process for decision making is to compile a 'weighted' score, of a 'pros and cons' list.

For more complex decisions, several options can be assessed against differing significant criteria, or against a single set of important factors. In any case, factors/options can be weighted and scored appropriately.

The 'pros and cons' method can be used especially for two-option problem-solving and decision-making issues where implications need to be understood and a decision has to be made in a measured objective sense.

Using a 'weighted list' scoring method is especially useful in big organisational or business decisions, especially which involve lots of different strategic considerations (as in  SWOT  and  PEST  and  Porter's Five Forces  concept). In such situations, you can assess different options according to a single set of criteria (the most important considerations), or you can allocate weighted/scored criteria differently to each option (examples of templates are below).

Some decisions are a simple matter of whether to make a change or not, such as moving, taking a new job, buying something, selling something, replacing something, etc. Other decisions involve a number of options and are concerned more with how to do something, involving a number of choices. Use the  brainstorming  process to identify and develop options for decision-making and problem-solving. If involving a group in the process then  running a workshop  is often a good approach.

  • First, you will need a separate sheet for each identified option.
  • On each sheet write clearly the option concerned, and then beneath it the headings 'pros' and 'cons' (or 'advantages' and 'disadvantages', or simply 'for' and 'against'). Many decisions simply involve the choice of whether to go ahead or not, to change or not; in these cases, you need only one sheet.
  • Then write down as many effects and implications of the particular option that you (and others if appropriate) can think of, placing each in the relevant column.
  • If helpful 'weight' each factor, by giving it a score out of three or five points (e.g., 5 being extremely significant, and 1 being of minor significance).
  • When you have listed all the points you can think of for the option concerned compare the number or total score of the items/effects/factors between the two columns.
  • This will provide a reflection and indication as to the overall attractiveness and benefit of the option concerned. If you have scored each item you will actually be able to arrive at a total score, being the difference between the pros and cons column totals. The bigger the difference between the total pros and total cons then the more attractive the option is.
  • If you have a number of options and have completed a pros and cons sheet for each option, compare the attractiveness - points difference between pros and cons - for each option. The biggest positive difference between pros and cons is the most attractive option.
  • N.B. If you don't like the answer that the decision-making sheet(s) reflect back to you, it means you haven't included all the cons - especially the emotional ones, or you haven't scored the factors consistently, so re-visit the sheet(s) concerned.

You will find that writing things down in this way will help you to see things more clearly, and become more objective and detached, which will help you to make clearer decisions.

Using a scoring template also allows for the involvement and contribution of other people, far more objectively, controllably and usefully, than by general discussion without a measurement framework.

This first simple example below enables the weighting of the pros and cons of buying a new car to replace an old car.

The methodology is easily adapted for more complex decisions, such as in business strategy and consideration of more complex factors (notably found within other tools such as  SWOT  and  PEST  and  Porter's Five Forces ).

The actual scores below are examples and are not suggested weightings of how to make such a decision, which must be your own ideas.

Decision-making criteria depend on your own personal situations and preferences. Criteria and weighting will change according to time, situation, etc.

Your own mood and feelings can also affect how you assess things, which is additional justification for the need for a measurable and robust method.

In bigger strategic business decision-making, it is often beneficial to seek input from others as to factors and weighting scores. In such situations, a template offers a way for people to contribute in a managed structured way.

The main template question can be whatever suits your purposes - it can be about timing, where, who, how, and  is not necessarily restricted to two columns . The same methodology can be used to compare a series of several options.

For more complex situations, especially which entail many more rows and columns, it's sensible to use a spreadsheet.

Use whatever scoring method makes good sense to you for your situation. The example shows a low score method, but you can score each item up to 10, or 20 or 100, or an 'A/B/C' or three-star scoring method - whatever works best for you.

In the above example, on the basis of the pros and cons and the weighting applied, there seems to be a clear overall quantifiable advantage in the decision to go ahead and buy a new car.

Notice that with this decision-making method it's even possible to include 'intangible' emotional issues in the pros and cons comparison, for example 'it'll be a load off my mind', and 'decisions scare and upset me'.

A decision-making pros and cons list like this helps remove the emotion which blocks clear thinking and decision-making. It enables objectivity and measurement, rather than reacting from instinct, or avoiding the issue altogether. Objective measurement helps in making a confident decision.

The total weighted scores are the main deciding factor rather than the total number of pros and cons, although there is not a scientific 'right' or 'wrong' way to consider the total number of pros and cons compared with the total weighted scores.

If the weighted scores are indicating a decision which makes you feel uncomfortable, then check your weightings, and also check that you've not missed out on any factors on either side of the table.

If the decision makes you feel uncomfortable and this is not reflected in the table, then add it as a factor and give it a score.

Seeking feedback or input from a trusted neutral friend can be helpful in confirming your factors and their scores.

You should be able to cut and paste this template into a text editor or spreadsheet. Add more rows or columns as required.

For more complex decisions, especially strategic/organisational, the sub-headings 'pros' and 'cons' should be replaced by the names of the different options.

Refer to other tools such as  SWOT  and  PEST  and  Porter's Five Forces  as appropriate.

Note: The above methods are similar to - but not the same as - 'Force Field Analysis', an analytical theory developed by psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890-1947), originally to assess factors influencing group behaviour. 

The Lewin model is typically shown as a simplified diagram, with horizontal arrows alongside each factor pointing to the space between the columns. Explained above is a different and logically developed weighted decision-making method, not Lewin's Force Field Analysis.

Here's a three-option template example:

This approach enables different criteria to be allocated to each option and weighted accordingly.

Here's a three-option template which enables weighting/scoring across a single set of criteria:

Complex Problems and Decisions - Tips

For complex decisions and problems involving more than two possible options, you can use a template with additional columns, in which case each column represents a different option, and the rows enable scoring according to the different weighted strategic considerations.

Or establish a single set of criteria across which to score several different options.

So, in using more than one or two columns you can assess options according to:

  • differing weighted criteria for each of the options, or
  • a single set of criteria.

Choose the method(s) which offer you the easiest approach, given the types of options available, and whether you are involving other people in the process.

Where a team of people, or different departments, are involved in the decision-making for lots of options/variations within a big complex situation, it can be useful to delegate the formulation of different two-column 'pros and cons' templates to different teams/people, and this can be a powerful aid to subsequent group discussions. This enables options to be eliminated and filtered and a shortlist of fewer options to be established.

In complex situations the wording of the options is important, for example, if considering the best path for one's own career and work development the options might be:

  • be employed, working for a big company
  • be self-employed, working as a consultant or freelancer from home
  • start a business, with premises and staff

A situation like this can be approached by completing three separate pros and cons tables and then comparing the net effects (difference between weighted pros and cons) of each one, or by completing one three-column template and scoring the main considerations across all three options.

Here's an example of a three-option organisational decision:

  • develop a range of industrial cleaning products
  • develop a range of industrial cleaning services
  • develop a network of distributors for industrial cleaning products and services

Criteria for weighting/scoring and thereby comparing the above three strategic options might typically include factors such as:

  • investment/costs required
  • profitability (gross margin, financial contribution, etc)
  • overhead use/demand
  • competitive advantage
  • ease of market access
  • training needs
  • speed, etc, etc

In both of the above examples, the scoring criteria can be more precisely and relevantly established with the aid of other tools like  SWOT  and  PEST  and  Porter's Five Forces .

Also consider that some decisions and challenges are difficult because you don't have the necessary knowledge or experience, in which case you need first to decide if the decision or challenge is actually appropriate and necessary for you at this stage.

If you don't have the necessary knowledge or experience to compile a decision-making template, then you are not in a good position to make the decision, and you need to bring in the necessary knowledge and experience.

Some decisions have to be made when you are not ready, in which case it is all the more important to be as measured as you can be, rather than resort purely to instinct.

Other decisions may seem urgent and necessary, but actually - if you probe and challenge the situation - might not actually be necessary at all.

Do not be forced into a decision if having considered the implications carefully you decide that it's not the best thing to do. The decision to do nothing is often a perfectly good option.

Whatever you do - try to be as objective and measured as you can be, and where it's appropriate or necessary, definitely seek input from others.

Well-prepared decisions are easier to make and implement and generally produce the best results.

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